Issue 10.3 | Summer 2012 / Guest edited by Jonathan Beller

A Naturalcultural Collection of Affections: Transdisciplinary Stories of Transmedia Ecologies Learning

This platform/paper is a multimedia bibliographic essay with an argument: working out in a posthumanities multiverse of articulating disciplines, interdisciplines, and multidisciplinarities requires a feminist practice of transdisciplinary inspection. Such inspection actually allows us to enjoy these many flavors of details, offerings, passions, languages, and things encountered while traveling the bibliographic among knowledge worlds, even as it simultaneously demonstrates that forms of transdisciplinary validity are not entailed only within their perhaps elegant but divergent parsimonies of explanation.

One index for the evaluation of such feminist transdisciplinary practice is how well it learns and models how to be affected or moved; how well it opens up unexpected elements of one’s own embodiments in lively and re-sensitizing worlds. Another index for valuing this practice lies in its possibilities for immersive play among sensations and platforms amid media ecologies; ways of participating in multispecies learning or self-organization across ecologies, mattering without owning the action.

Tools we need for such inspections and play include what Susan Leigh Star called “boundary objects” and what Chela Sandoval calls “differential consciousness.” Risks include the confusions of transcontextual double binds in a restructuring global academy. How do we befriend transdisciplinarity in the midst of global academic restructuring? How do we participate in shaping its knowledge projects and affections?

Contents:

  • Bateson. Salen. Zimmerman: Double Bind Immersions, Play, and Crisis
  • Haraway. Star: Relays and Boundary Objects
  • Despret. Latour: Learning to be Affected
  • Keeling. Ferguson: Affective Labor and Surplus Populations
  • Barad. Ahmed. Alaimo. Hekman: Entangled Material Feminisms
  • Jenkins. Sandoval: Transmedia Activisms

Bateson. Salen. Zimmerman: Double Bind Immersions, Play, and Crisis

From 1954 to 2004, from multidisciplinary anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s “A Theory of Play and Fantasy” to intellectual entrepreneurs Katie Salen’s and Eric Zimmerman’s Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, transdisciplinary connections have been made on the basis of “play”—between psychiatry, mathematical logic, linguistics, histories and evolution of communication, ethology, biophysics, cybernetics, and natural history on the one hand, and game industry, fine arts design, education, semiotics, animation, new media, children’s television, and systems collaborations on the other. How does “play” come to associate all these knowledge worlds today as culture industries globally shift and alter; restructure and intermesh; and are recruited in nationalisms, economies, and political life? What sorts of politics might allow us to scope and scale among these, to “play” with our own consciousnesses, to understand how humans work as agents among agencies, in interactivities just on the edge of apprehension?

What does it take to be an intellectual actor across knowledge worlds as well as a trustworthy member of only some? How scary is it to practice knowledges beyond your control; to sift among forms of evidence requiring tools you do not have; to be required to rank, evaluate, and assess results of rules you have not played out, yet?

Learning, play, and games come to be our signs and practices for action among knowledge powers today, a semiotics of naturalcultural affections. Why?

King Figure 1

Figure 1: Gregory Bateson. Copyright Barry Schwartz Photography.

Bateson is known for an idea that is very hard to evaluate: the notion of a “double bind.” Intended in the fifties as a clue to the meanings and causes of schizophrenia, cast retrospectively today it looks rather odd: what of the sexism of those laying blame on the “schizophrenogenic mother”? What of the possibility of gathering evidence for the effects of expressed emotion in family systems of those with possibly linked bipolar disorder? The risks, severity, effects, scope, intensity, and distribution of the communication tangles inspected through a concern with “double binds” may speak to various conditions of biosocial systems today.

According to Bateson double binds are transactions; that is to say, relational, social, and built upon repetition. More than a single or simple contradiction, they are instead an entire system of layered contradictions mobilized over a range of communication channels. At one level of meaning or abstraction and within a particular communication channel something is prohibited, punished—violations threaten or appear to threaten actual survival. But at another level and communicated via a different channel, something else is required, something impossible to effect if the prohibition is honored, yet not accomplishing it is also punishable and life-threatening. And topping it all off, not only is the situation inescapable and impossible to voice or talk about, it is so confusing that perceiving what is happening may be, at best, barely possible. Finally, all this happens over and over again, until such double-bind patternings become experienced as “reality.”

Bateson was also aware that double-bind effects might not be simply debilitating or pathological. Normal versions of double binds occur all the time. Religious practices, entertainment, game design, learning, and professional environments may also deal with some edge of double bind. And both sorts of double binds—these relatively common ones and those of much greater abusive effect—also create, in ranges of circumstances including the almost intolerable, conditions that may produce new creativities—if survived. Abusive practices and challenging ones are only too easily mistaken for each other when crucial context markers distinguishing one from another become unrecognizable, contradictory, or fraudulent. Thus terror and possibility are on edge in double bind experiences, as “transcontextual confusions” require “transcontextual gifts” one may or may not have. Bateson inspected such patternings as intense, that is, needing fine discriminations between kinds of messages for urgent appropriate response; contradictory, and this at two different orders of message, each of which denies the other; and finally, unvoiced, that is to say, making explicit checks of context impossible, inappropriate, or meaningless.[1]

We are talking then about some sort of tangle in the rules for making the transforms and about the acquisition or cultivation of such tangles […] [T]here is nothing to determine whether a given individual shall become a clown, a poet, a schizophrenic, or some combination of these. We deal not with a single syndrome but with a genus of syndromes, most of which are not conventionally regarded as pathological. Let me coin the word “transcontextual” as a general term for this genus of syndromes. It seems that both those whose life is enriched by transcontextual gifts and those who are impoverished by transcontextual confusions are alike in one respect: for them there is always or often a “double take.” A falling leaf [or] the greeting of a friend … is not “just that and nothing more.”[2]

khipu

Figure 2: Khipu, from the Khipu Database project website.

Tangles and the transcontextual will now run as threads through the rest of this essay. These threads should always “play” with this range of terror and possibility amid the workings with and through consciousnesses, those individual and those biosocial. Consciousnesses here have elements of both reflection and recursion. At the edge of apprehension, they are those environments of being in which context, pattern, layers of abstraction, and storytelling all have material effects and provide materials for agency.

Double takes and double consciousness are at the heart of the theories of play and fantasy that Salen and Zimmerman find useful for game design and for new education projects. They challenge what they call “the immersive fallacy”—the idea that games get better and better as they become whatever that thing “more real” is. (Notice that this immersive fallacy has implications for whatever those things “rigor,” “representation,” “evidence,” “method,” and “assessment” mean too.) Bateson is their touchstone for “metacommunicative media”: “play is a process of metacommunication, a double-consciousness in which the player is well aware of the artificiality of the play situation.”[3]

As animals and children learn to play they come to know that there are some ways a play self can and must be separated from an everyday self, and they learn to perform this separation in interactive cognitive and social communication forms of “not”: they amuse themselves by performing the communication “this is not it.” The puppy nips, but not hard enough to injure. (Violence? Not.) The teen kisses in spin the bottle, but not necessarily the person they like the most. (Sex? Not.) Yet at the same time there are also other ways in which these selves simply are not separated, in certain physiological processes and psychological equivalences. The nip actually hurts a bit, the kissing blush and stammer. A double consciousness of being in both these states at the same time is possible, as Bateson puts it in formal terms, because play creates its own commentary in itself about itself as an intense and pleasurable interactive dynamism—communicatively social, as well as neurological and hormonal. Such metacommunications—or communications about communication—are performed by embodied selves at multiple “levels” of organic and social systems, some sequentially, some simultaneously.[4]

Notice that metacommunication and metacommunicative media are at stake in double binds: good signaling skills make nonabusive play on the edge of double binds possible: “My body is reacting as if I am in danger, but really I’m in front of a computer screen.” (Reality? Not.) But Bateson was well aware that not every edge of play is so easily resolved: that transcontextual confusions and gifts arise from situations in which “tangles” remain, in which finding out which bits are active; which bits are context; which bits can be made explicit; which rules are perceptible; and which distributed embodiments, cognitions, and infrastructures are in play, matters. And the skills for all this, transcontextual movement without falling apart, what restructuring academies, nations, and industries call “innovation,” are the very heart of all those things that the word “gaming” now covers, from gambling to economic game theory, from game art and design to games as learning, from role playing to systems theory—many of these playing with our distributed being, individual and collective, neurological and hormonal, industrial and creative. This is the context for considering all the other bibliographic entries of this essay.


Haraway. Star: Relays and Boundary Objects

King Figure 2

Figure 2: Baila Goldenthal, Cat’s Cradle/String Theory, 2008. Copyright Baila Goldenthal.

In 2011 feminist technoscience theorist Donna Haraway was presented with the Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement in the field of scholarly SF (science fiction) by the Science Fiction Research Association. Science fiction and speculative feminisms became companion species through this event, and Haraway worked this connection carefully in her acceptance speech, “SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far.” The game of cat’s cradle, a story arc across a range of transmedia Haraway episodes, comes into its own here, pictured, described, metacommunicated, performed, extended or “relayed,” as a collective and collaborative practice of worlding:

These knowledge-making and world-making fields inform a craft that for me is relentlessly replete with organic and inorganic critters and stories, in their thick material and narrative tissues. The tight coupling of writing and research—where both terms require the factual, fictional, and fabulated; where both terms are materialized in fiction and scholarship—seems to me to be built into SF’s techno-organic, polyglot, polymorphic wiring diagrams. My multispecies story telling is inflected through SF in all the fibers of the string figures that I try to pattern and to relay.[5]

Those perceiving multiform contributions to SF from Haraway cannot be wedded to only intensive definitions of “the field.” Feminist speculative fabulation is an extensive category, perpendicular but necessary to the skills of defamiliarization shaped by fandoms with crafty-cares: world-crafting as well as drawing; role playing; gaming; writing; critiquing; reviewing; costuming; songwriting and singing; webby community building; techy arts and communications—fans advocating their interests in film, TV, and other media and culture industries, shaping environments and contexts for imagination and cognition. True, fans, some of them writers and scholars, may hotly promote their own detailed and careful definitions of what counts as science fiction or fantasy and their various subgenres and communities of practice: those intensive disciplines of detail, membership, and gatekeeping, those oxytocin-fueled edges of bonding and othering. But including Haraway’s contributions to SF takes place extensively—in generous “relays” of patterning, attention, wonderings, rewarded by dopamine spikes producing and triggered by pleasure, anticipation, yawning fields for memory, learning and unlearning, as well as tenacious addictive repetitions.

Relays, cat’s cradle, passing patterns back and forth, giving and receiving, patterning, holding the unasked-for pattern in one’s hands, response-ability, Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster series. My debts mount. Again and again, SF has given me the ideas, the stories, and the shapes with which I think ideas, shapes, and stories in feminist theory and science studies.[6]

Relaying is relative and relational, reciprocal and enheartening—enjoying the celebrity of one that promotes pleasures in many networking together. Worlding is a practice of displaying as well as crafting worlds, of sharing as well as enjoying expertise, of noticing tiny details of connection and similarity amid the tweaks and frissons of alternative shadings across many intertexualities of association, history, genre, care.

In August 2010 in the Santa Cruz mountains, Haraway attended a celebration of the life of her compatriot in speculative fabulation, Susan Leigh Star, whose unexpected death in March had reverberated across many feminist, science-studies, and spiriting worlds. Star’s last essay was a bit of retrospection about as well as relaying on a conceptual tool she had become known for. In this last essay, Star reflected on her notion of boundary objects as itself a boundary object; clarifying its origins and uses, she still refused to authoritatively standardize it, even while recognizing that many boundary objects over time do enter into processes of standardization, even cycling around residual categories, methods, standards, and infrastructures. Holding the notion of a boundary object at this point in which no single agency is authorized to stabilize it, she remarked on its uses for those cooperating without consensus. There, groups tacitly “tack back-and-forth” between their own local groups who maintain an intensive, specific, tailored identity for important objects, and the workaround processes required to collaborate with other groups and their objects, divergently tailored, yet held extensively in common.[7]

Star refers to Bateson when she reflects on the origins of the concept of a boundary object:

As I delved deeper into the relations between developers and users, it became clear that a kind of communicative tangle was occurring. I used the work of Gregory Bateson, who had studied these sorts of communicative mishaps under the heading of “double binds.” As with Bateson’s work on schizophrenics, and what he called “the transcontextual syndrome,” the messages that were coming at level one from the systems developers were not being heard on that level by the users and vice versa. What was obvious to one was a mystery to another. What was trivial to one was a barrier to another. Yet, clarifying this was never easy. The users liked the interface when they were sat in front of it. Yet, they did not know how to make a reliable working infrastructure out of it. They would ask the … team, who would reply in terms alien to them. I began to see this as a problem of infrastructure–and its relative nature.[8]

At this point in its cycles, a boundary object can be used as a particular sort of worlding tool. Either tacitly or playfully, in a doubled or multiplied consciousness, it patterns back and forth across locals and globals in layers of intensity and detail. Growing such boundary objects could be perpendicularly perceived as more cat’s cradle games and relays. Star teaches us how to put feelers out for the frisson that signals misrecognition or anomaly—these then become wormholes across multiple social worlds, connected through transdisciplinary boundary objects.

Despret. Latour: Learning to be Affected

Several times I had to contact interlibrary loan to score electronic copies of the two papers from a journal my university did not subscribe to. Donna Haraway recommended one in particular to me as I worked on my own paper for SLSA (the Society for the Study of Literature, Science, and the Arts). I was trying to work out what might matter about training an artificial-intelligence agent, packaged as a “dog,” to herd “sheep” in the virtual world Second Life. Whether Second Life is a “game,” or not, is sometimes hotly debated among its residents or among self-described gamers. Why should I, or anyone else, care about this play? Haraway, once my dissertation director, relayed me to the work of philosopher and psychologist Despret, a thinker my old undergraduate teacher Gregory Bateson would have loved.

My PhD is in the history of consciousness, a department title with a complicated history itself, and one often taken, rightly or wrongly, with a grain of salt—after all, what counts as “consciousness” such that it can have one or more histories? I had been delightfully scooped up for a 2009 panel on Tranimals by other HistCon types and Haraway advisees Lindsay Kelley and Eva Hayward. The cat’s cradle game that is HistCon is an ongoing generational relay connecting, among many others, Bateson, Haraway, King, Hayward, and Kelley, in many possible configurations of interactive play.

Should I wait for the 2004 essays from interlibrary loan? I could use the draft version of the other one, Bruno Latour’s, that had been online since 1999, and the original symposium in Paris from which the special issue of Body & Society had derived. But the disclaimer on his website was daunting: “Warning: those texts are made available for private academic use only; there might be huge differences between this version and the final published one, especially concerning footnotes; always report to the author and publisher for any other use.” For an oral presentation only, I might have blown this off. But I was creating a “talksite” on Blogger for this one. How did that matter? And how might all these infrastructures—of publication, media, conferences, scholarly communication, research results and processes—matter too? Were they only background for the real stuff? Or are they among the actual materialities of distributed thinking?

Despret is another great ethological fabulist and the essay, “The Body We Care For: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis,” is a set of multiple retellings of old stories, ones with iconic status in the histories of research methods. The very first science fiction here, the one about the so-called “Clever Hans effect,” starts the essay off as a challenge to the elegant parsimonies of explanation, accuracy, and rigor characterizing “best practices” in laboratory or field psychology in the twentieth century. Rather than a debunking tale, where a famous horse is cleverly revealed to only appear to do mathematical calculations, actually instead “merely” reading the reactions of the humans around him, Despret’s retold story turns out to be about clever bodies and things, which, at the very edge of apprehension, attune themselves to one another: an interactive agency we can call “learning to be affected.”[9]

King figure 3

Figure 3: Contents of PerfumersWorld Foundation Course kit, from perfumeprojects.com.

Relaying this story and adding his own patterns of meaning to it, Bruno Latour, one of the architects of so-called actor-network theory in the social studies of science, uses the idea to describe what happens when a perfume expert learns to become a “nose” (in the parlance of the trade), that is, learns to distinguish very subtle ranges of smell by training with an “odor kit,” a device organized in a careful palette of small differences. Learning to be affected here entails “a dynamic trajectory by which we learn to register and become sensitive to what the world is made of.”[10] Bodies and things, processes and interactivities are all engaging together in the many possibilities across “learning to be affected.” New media infrastructures, boundary objects, and processes of learning also work across redistributed agencies, ones not located simply in the consciousness of individual humans in seeming control, but rather ones emergent across materialities of social media old and new, together with beings and economies and knowledge workers and neurobiological systems, affecting and being affected. “Thus body parts are progressively acquired at the same time that ‘world counter-parts’ are being registered in a new way. Acquiring a body is thus a progressive enterprise that produces at once a sensory medium and a sensitive world.”[11]


Keeling. Ferguson: Affective Labor and Surplus Populations

Transdisciplinarities work out and among urgent, ranging, and competing forms of authority and assessment, under terms of current global restructuring, academic and otherwise.

Not everyone uses the term transdisciplinary in such a historically urgent and materially located way. For some, it is just another term for multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary—that is, for scholarship or projects in which disciplines and their experts collaborate, or in which intellectual themes and issues necessitate travels among and between disciplines. Still, competing authorities play roles in both of these, certainly. What sort of project of multiplicity is transdisciplinarity? What sorts of “double consciousness” might it array in which political economies?

Gregory Bateson used to say, in figuring what today we might call “distributed being,” we don’t end at our skin. Like the double bind, considered retrospectively, such a statement triggers a frisson of risk, concern, critique, anomaly, perhaps misrecognition, across social worlds in a range of pastpresents. “Skin,” at this moment in time, has so many different meanings and associations amid diverging archives and actions among knowledge worlds that the dramatically different implications for considering what it means to say to any particular group of people that we do not end at our skin, becomes an example itself of transdisciplinary movement across knowledge worlds. What sort of boundary object is this “skin”? Engaging and networking such a “riot of association,” to use a term I learned from Michael Moon’s work on “pulp affect” artist Henry Darger, comes to be the work to take up in that something we might provisionally call a posthumanities.

For a transmedia philosopher and analyst such as Kara Keeling, a book is a wormhole into this sort of transdisciplinary universe—there, many media collaborate without consensus; there, human affect labors among litanies for survival. A fantasy soundtrack companions the book, each chapter cautioned and referenced by songs whose lyrics advise wariness, “providing The Witch’s Flight with an affective register that simultaneously exceeds and yearns …. [that] might propel one into a ‘lyricism of the surplus’ that, while evading currently accessible common senses, still can be felt–like an intuition or premonition, something unseen, but nonetheless present(ly) (im)possible. The end of the world …. Work with me.”[12]

With the term “surplus,” Keeling relays the work of Rod Ferguson’s queer-of-color critique as she looks to demonstrate “the perceptual (and cognitive) processes demanded and engendered by globalizing capital.”[13] Keeling and Ferguson collaborate here in working out how it is that human affect and a political economy of acquiring body parts from the skin’s edge are agencies of valorization, that is to say, of pricing, of valuing, of mobilizing labor.[14] These may also entail polymorphously perverse disruptions of social hierarchies (across at least race, gender, class, sexuality) that arise with surplus populations, those “relatively redundant working populations … [that are] superfluous to capital’s average requirements for its own valorization.”[15]

Agencies of capital here are those worldly processes of economic systems articulating and distributed among, but not reproducing the powers of the state, or of community, family, or nation. Other agencies matter here too: sensory-motor apparatus and affectivities, thinkings and memory-images distributed across people and media. Exactly how lively or “sensitive” body parts in sensory-motor schemata can be to survive is at stake. Numbing out among media is a possible response to layered double-bind systems ranging from the confusing to the intolerable, and play among media is one training ground for political struggle that properly bypasses Reason.[16] Keeling’s transmedia tracing of queer blaxploitation crossed with queer liberalism plays with the image of the black femme as figured by actor Pam Grier. Grier’s image has its existence halfway between its being and its representation, in a pastpresent trajectory across political economies. In a moment of economic retrenchment, 1970s Hollywood reaches out for young urban black audiences (in a multiplication of surplus) with Pam Grier as Foxy Brown, a “stud broad” reproving her heterosex, or as Coffy, a queered black femme, in terms that defy raced and classed heteronormativity. This memory-image holds open this raced queerness into television’s The L Word (2004-2009), even though Grier plays Kit Porter, the only heterosexual recurring female character.

Notice that an attention to the multiplication of surplus multiplies any critique of The L Word’s middle-class, primarily white milieu, or of its appeal to straight men, by requiring a multiplied consciousness of what is queerly valorized: “If Pam Grier is a locus of desire for both heterosexual males and … for lesbians such as the Lesbian Avengers’ lesbian partygoers, then her presence on The L Word is another way the series seeks to bring these populations together in a shared project of value production.”[17] Whose “man” exceeds representation or exists halfway between it and a beingness queerly, materially other?

Barad. Ahmed. Alaimo. Hekman: Entangled Material Feminisms

The primary ontological units are not ‘things’ but phenomena–dynamic topologicalreconfigurings/entanglements/relationalities/(re)articulations …. Agency is not an attribute but the ongoing reconfigurings of the world.[18]

Knowledge making costs money. Increasingly, over the nineties and after, who pays for what sorts of knowledge making and where has become increasingly contentious in national agendas for innovation and economic positioning. Which surplus populations will be enrolled into which kinds of institutions for knowledge work becomes an element of global academic restructuring. A multiplication of surplus reorders the very names of institutions, from, say, polytechnics to new universities. Restructuring involves politicizing funding such that knowledge-making practices are subject to assessments and accountancies of various sorts. Academics find themselves having to explain to publics and governmentalities just what it is that they do and why it matters, as forms of justification for the uses of public and private funding.[19]

A posthumanities emerges out of an intellectual double bind of having to both address many diverging audiences simultaneously under the threat of survival, while also having to author knowledges as merely one of multiple agencies with very limited control. In this environment the mapping of messages onto audiences becomes increasingly tricky as authorial and receptive agencies, partial and highly distributed, require affective labors: sifting among authoritative and alternative knowledges, clarifying affiliations, inspiring trust.[20] Feminisms are affected.

In 2008, in a virtuosic performance of layered critique, philosopher Sara Ahmed held out the boundary object, “material feminisms,” for inspection. Whose material was this? Which generations of feminisms were implicated? Which feminist communities of practice were affiliated in an inspection of “material feminisms,” and how? Which details were necessary to name others carefully? What contexts were backdrops for which founding gestures? Frustration, forgetting, unfairness, intensity, ethics, hope, and caring attention to detail were among the affective labors expended and demanded. Ahmed concludes the essay with:

In claiming to return to matter, we might then be losing sight of how matter matters in different ways, for different feminisms, over time. The gesture is a forgetting as well as a caricature. Of course, I have no doubt reduced the complexity of the work I am engaging with. I was compelled to write this piece–by frustration, I admit. If my argument against such gestures means anything it means this: when we describe what it is that we do, when we consider how it is that we arrive at the grounds we inhabit, we need to appreciate the feminist work that comes before us, in all its complexity. We don’t always have to make a return to earlier feminist work, but if we represent that work as being this or that, then we need to make that return. Such a return would be ethical: we should avoid establishing a new terrain by clearing the ground of what has come before us. And we might not be quite so willing to deposit our hope in the category of “the new.”[21]

As a professor of race and cultural studies in the department of media and communications (Goldsmiths, University of London) concerned with “how bodies and worlds take shape;” “institutional cultures;” and “how emotions are attributed to objects, such that objects become sticky, or full of affective value,” Ahmed’s ability here to feel out and make explicit that irritable frustration that signals anomaly and tangles across communities of practice is itself “irritating,” that is to say, alive, reflecting and provoking affective labor, making edges and margins vibrate, setting media into responses and responsibilities.[22]

“Of course, I have no doubt reduced the complexity of the work I am engaging with.” Irritable relays of all sorts are set into motion by this very proper statement at the end of a critique inspecting some effects of reducing complexity. These words make explicit the hard work of elegance in explanation and of essentialism in critique, those strategic openings and closings of “black boxes” full of memory, “hyperlinks” to detailed generational or local knowledges, not-altogether-voluntary requirements to choose among grains of detail—all having to shape-shift when transdisciplinary knowledges travel in n-dimensions with and without human agencies. “One must wonder who is being evoked by this ‘we’, and to what extent this ‘we’ functions to interpellate the reader into a community that shares a common horizon (Have you forgotten where we have come from? Have I?).”[23] Which side, which knowledge world, in what spacetime are “we” on, inside and outside of, bonding and othering?

How is something like a “posthumanities” at stake here, in what sort of “play”? That critique—in itself, about itself: intense certainly, and maybe irritably pleasurable? Meanwhile the interactive dynamisms, the metacommunications about affect and intensity ensure the sensations of groupings and competitions, their edges and affiliations among alliances and passions. Instead of resolution, tacit forgettings, or civil cooperations, what sorts of boundary objects value irritation?

Ahmed takes issue with a series of “Matter? not!” declarations by feminist physicist and onto-epistemologist Karen Barad in her essay, “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.”[24] Ahmed worries that these and some other (black-boxing) speech acts are only caricatures of whole arguments, of whole (disciplinising?) archives, and that they are not conducted at the proper grain of detail, “not attributed to somebody. The new materialisms takes shape by the mobility and detachability of this ‘not.’”[25]

King figure 4

Figure 4: From “Microbial evolution” on the website Visual Compexity, visualcomplexity.com. This image shows a bird’s-eye view of the tree of life, showing the vines in red and the tree’s branches in grey [Bacteria] and green [Archaea]. The last universal common ancestor is shown as a yellow sphere.

A mobility and detachability of such “nots” provokes a frisson: what if it is signaling cat’s cradle relays across string-figuring, knotted SFs, that is to say, science feminisms? What if the worlding here needs to scope and scale along ranges of detail, indications of shifts from one knowledge world to another assemblaged through boundary objects? Ahmed’s critiques might well be held to properly apply to the volume in which Barad’s essay is reprinted in 2008, to the very linkages among materialities and materialisms collected in literary theorist Stacy Alaimo’s and political scientist Susan Hekman’s edited volume Material Feminisms (2008). The debate as such becomes then a demonstration of who gets to say in which knowledge worlds material linkages were already in place, even routinized, among media, feminisms, technosciences, bodies, disciplines, canons, glossaries, timeframes, economies of culture, apparatuses, and principle actors and actants. For Alaimo and Hekman, even knowing that such linkages exist could not be assumed for their disciplinized archives of reference and must be conscientiously made explicit as “new” across three decades of feminist work backgrounded or marginalized in disciplines such as political theory. For Ahmed the assertion as “new” of work now a decade or more “old” is a gesture that, in a routinized rhetoric about feminisms, or as a intellectual gesture that opened out upon some grounding for a “new” field, both promoted and simultaneously erased some of the very work it seemingly valorized. Intellectual infrastructures were variously assembled or stacked, and the density of detail was either extensively scaled out, or intensively scoped closely among specific intellectual communities. Attention, in this case, not only narrowed the range of possible material feminisms over time, but also altered the grain of detail, resulting in differential focus for items of attention.

“Apparatuses are not inscription devices [one whole archive of studies repositioned here], scientific instruments set in place before the action happens, or machines that mediate the dialectic of resistance and accommodation.”[26] All this “not”-ing sets the focus of the lens used in examination here, alters the grain of detail deliberately (if perhaps dismissingly, although that is not necessarily the case), and requires a different horizon of “we,” one that pulls way back to include forms of matter as they appear in alternate knowledge worlds. “In my further elaboration of Bohr’s insights, apparatuses are not mere static arrangements of the world, but rather, apparatuses are dynamic (re)configurings of the world, specific agential practices/intra-actions/performances through which specific exclusionary boundaries are enacted. Apparatuses have no inherent ‘outside’ boundary. This indeterminacy of the ‘outside’ boundary represents the impossibility of closure–the ongoing intra-activity in the iterative reconfiguring of the apparatus of bodily production. Apparatuses are open-ended practices.[27]

One of my favorite not-quite-politically-correct quotations from Leigh Star is this one: “We honestly believe that there are no positions that are epistemologically superior to any others. But I do at the same time argue with and try to overthrow those I don’t agree with! Relativism in this sense does not imply neutrality–rather, it implies forswearing claims to absolute epistemological authority. This is quite different from abandoning moral commitments.”[28] I brazenly detach these words from their original context and mobilize them all together for my own irritating purposes: at alternate levels of globals and locals, I both reduce and add to their complexity, claiming the quotation signals conscientious play with double or multiple consciousness. And I think of this quotation in terms of growing boundary objects that allow one to inhabit the terrain of double binds honorably, playfully, companionably, and irritatingly. Thus at one level of contradiction intensively inhabiting particular communities of practice with close horizons and sharp affiliating disciplinizations, while simultaneously also willingly scoping out extensively—to be curious and value how claims to epistemological authority operate and how comparative relativisms can be accountable. I can irritatingly, passionately disagree with, say, the use of “intersectionality” by a particular community of practice, yet conscientiously value and participate in a history of multiple intersectionalities, standpoints, and antiracist practices, with varying horizons of membership, discipline, and generation, transnational venues and political contexts, philosophical and theoretical lineages, and so on, in n-dimensions and among historical knowledge-power apparatuses not wholly “human” or “humanist.”


Sandoval. Jenkins: Transmedia Activisms

Apparatuses at various levels of worlding: how do we mine the paradoxes of globalization, and of distributed production and being, for activisms? How do we examine such paradoxes as the very conceptual tools that allow for inspections of knowledge and power amid altered agencies not limited to the human? What forms do learning, play, and games take—ironically and pleasurably—as they come to be signs and practices for action? These changes since the nineties across knowledge work, culture crafts and industries, and academic capitalism are something I ambivalently engage as the condition for my own continuing, and for learning that matters.

The Chicana feminist and media theorist Chela Sandoval’s notion of “differential consciousness,” or “differential movement,” is useful here.[29] In the book Sandoval spent the restructuring nineties writing, Methodology of the Oppressed, she suggests that globalization processes at that time (and increasingly now) were simultaneously producing both a new (ironically spoken) “democratization of oppression” (what others have sometimes called “hyperoppression”) and a new “global citizen” with emergent forms of subjectivity.[30] Such emergent subjectivities create, require, and hone cognitive and other skills. Distributed being and distributed cognition are faceted angles onto and within such subjectivities. Unevenly distributed and suffered inequalities are others.

Back to back with Sandoval’s differential movement are the very specific culture-industry materializations of transmedia following the nineties—those highly commercial practices now open for feminist inspection and extension: for example, what University of Santa Cruz media and industry scholar Henry Jenkins calls “transmedia storytelling:”

A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole. In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best—so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics; its world might be explored through game play or experienced as an amusement park attraction. Each franchise entry needs to be self-contained so you don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the game, and vice versa. Any given product is a point of entry into the franchise as a whole. Reading across the media sustains a depth of experience that motivates more consumption …. The economic logic of a horizontally integrated entertainment industry—that is, one where a single company may have roots across all of the different media sectors—dictates the flow of content across media. Different media attract different market niches …. A good transmedia franchise works to attract multiple constituencies by pitching the content somewhat differently in the different media. If there is, however, enough to sustain those different constituencies—and if each work offers fresh experiences—then you can count on a crossover market that will expand the potential gross.[31]

In these commercial worlds of entertainment, material examples of stacked realities—cascading over various media and technological platforms with differing degrees of interoperability and standardization—tell these “transmedia stories.” Such transmedia storytelling is inevitably commercialized, and indeed arises as a new commercial techno-practice for the sake of distributed funding and production in restructuring economic environments. Technoscientific imaginaries in contemporary culture are material demonstrations of these practices. And not only in commercial worlds of entertainment.

Sandoval’s semiology in Methodology of the Oppressed teaches us how to hone and understand our distributed sensitivities, those affective labors including pleasure, our feelings out among articulated economies for any frisson that might indicate liberatory potential. These are neither celebratory nor easily addressed within the too-often inadvertently essentializing terms of negative critique, instead pressuring us through many rounds of “not”-ing, knotting good faith and uneven trust. These are about wringing edgy possibilities out of the terrors or strange pleasures of mandates for particular skills and survivals under globalization, those collective double binds that distributed structures (inevitably?) produce. And differential movement is also about articulations and apparatus. Transdisciplinarity and posthumanities are properly connected here.

The purpose of the automobile part called a differential is to allow the wheels to move independently when necessary, each in sensitized differences of speed and distance as the motor directs energy to these points of environmental contact. Notice that this sort of differential is a piece within a mechanics of distributed adaptations, and, attached to the poststructuralist valences between “difference” and “différance,” it works for Sandoval to multiply possibilities within recursions. Such a tensely held unity of movement is never entirely “synthesized” and is instead deferred, operating recursively at more than one level of structure and signification at the same time. In other words, it operates independently at particular material points but is never entirely uncoupled or disarticulated; in fact, the term itself moves among transdisciplinarities and worlds:

This method asks practitioners to collectively and strategically distinguish, evaluate, and select tactics, among which may include integrationism, revolutionary action, supremacism, separatism, anarchism, political defense or redefinition of the human, or complete defiance of that category. However different, each tactic is strategically accomplished in order to intervene in and democratically refocus social and psychic powers …. This methodology of emancipation functions as a place-based ecological activism—it works through self-consciously identifying and producing invigorating political and cultural planetary geographies.[32]

Transmedia activisms have been coming to matter for a while ….

Sandoval’s methodology of the oppressed, a project in semiology and cognitive media, responds to whole ranges of those tricky mapping problems of affiliation and extension and of critique and exploration by working out—specifically for feminisms—dynamic, multidimensional visualizations and transmedia theories, through an ethically augmented and affected cognitive sensorium. She also demonstrates persuasively that all these involve continuities built upon and with “US third world feminisms” of the seventies and eighties, upon and with situated knowledges recast during the nineties as transformative politics of and about globalization, recast during those alterations in knowledge work and culture industries.

This differential or transcontextual movement is a sort of cycling through possibility, through sets of interactive contexts and actions, which Sandoval thus names as the variable and sensitized tactics and ethics of “democratics.” Sandoval draws upon structuralism and poststructuralism to describe and hone “meta-ideologizing,” which “functions both within and against ideology.” “This manipulation of one’s own consciousness through stratified zones of form and meaning requires the desire and the ability to move through one layer of [the signifier/signified/Sign] relationship and into another, ‘artificial,’ or self-consciously manufactured ideology and back again.”[33]

Sandoval’s own work on differential movement is preemptive and proleptic, sometimes prophetic. Sandoval’s conceptual medium itself is media in pastpresents, a literal infrastructure out of which her analysis of feminist politics emerged. “Convergence culture,” Jenkins’ 2006 title exclaims, “Where old and new media collide.” Such convergence culture is inhabited, says Jenkins, by those “who learn how to play with media, information, visualization, and who live among and produce hypertexted or relational and relative materialities.”[34]

Academic practices of all kinds are now enlisted as kinds of transmedia storytelling. I call these “Queer Transdisciplinarities,” but not in a move to register them for identity politics, although sometimes they very explicitly and quite properly are, in my own feminist fields of interest and attention. Rather, my point in naming them thus is to watch them “queer the pitch:” they require us to attend to, to learn to be affected by the political economies of knowledge worlds, to how interlinked the economies of entertainment, knowledge laborings, globally restructured academies, governmentalities, and the infrastructures of communication are now. They connect us, too, to the enlistment of surplus populations into global media, and to the labor of pleasure, hooking us into many layers of system, among these neurological and hormonal, sometimes irritable and irritating.

To “play” with our own consciousnesses, to curiously work at the edge of “this is not it,” to learn to be affected in worlding bits, some activated and activating across the tacit and the explicit, feeling out the edges of rules barely perceptible among distributed embodiments, cognitions, and infrastructures—here are creativities needed now among the double binds we find ourselves in. Such complex movements among contradictory processes do not open themselves up for either idealization or disillusionment. Rather forms of good faith feel out ways to work across affiliations as well as within them. Which “we” gathers, locating inside of worlding processes, as elements in reorganizations that “we” matter in, but do not control?

Sandoval reminds us over and over that nothing purges political movement of contradiction, of ironically essentializing tactical critiques, of incorporation into capitalist globalizing processes, or of the othering results of affiliations and attempts at finding the “right” unit of trust. She is known for what amounts to an intersectional meditation for growing (those all-too irritating) boundary objects, inspiring us to work on: “enough strength to confidently commit to a well-defined structure of identity for one hour, day, week, month, year; enough flexibility to self-consciously transform that identity according to the requisites of another oppositional ideological tactic if readings of power’s formation require it; enough grace to recognize alliance with others committed to egalitarian social relations and race, gender, sex, class, and social justice, when their readings of power call for alternative oppositional stands.”[35]

Transcontexual movement without falling apart—where we participate as the transmedia ecologies, learning. A struggled-after “posthumanities” tasks itself, from the very depths of restructuring, to refocus on many projects of decolonization, antiracist politics, feminist transformation, and sensitized transmedia knowledge practices.

Mass media and burgeoning new media have many demonstrations of transcontexualities to perform for any of “us” moving among knowledge worlds. And political affects come necessarily to shape work now in and around academies, opposing and investing in current budgetary crises and realities, and then thus explosively media- and activist-intensive. In other words, media ecologies are not an area of study only, but the air we breathe, quite as much a part of global ecologies as global warming, if even more ambivalently politically charged and attended to.

Bibliography

  • Ahmed, S. (2008). “Open Forum: Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism.'” European Journal of Women’s Studies, 15(1), 23-39.
  • Ahmed, S. (2011). Ahmed, Sara, Goldsmiths, University of London Faculty Webpage. Retrieved 7 Sept, 2011.
  • Alaimo, S., & Hekman, S. J. (Eds.) (2008). Material Feminisms. Bloomington: Indiana.
  • Barad, K. (2008 [2003]). “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” In Alaimo & Hekman, Material Feminisms (pp. 120-154).
  • Barad, K. M. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke.
  • Bateson, G. (1972 [1954]). “A Theory of Play and Fantasy.” In Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (pp. 177-194). San Francisco: Chandler.
  • Bateson, G. (1972 [1956]). “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia.” In Steps to an Ecology of Mind (pp. 201-227).
  • Bateson, G. (1972 [1969]). “Double Bind, 1969.” In Steps to an Ecology of Mind (pp. 271-278).
  • Bateson, G. (1980). Men are Grass: Metaphor and the World of Mental Process. West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne Press.
  • Bateson, N. (2011). An Ecology of Mind, a Daughter’s Portrait of Gregory Bateson. Retrieved 31 Aug, 2011.
  • Clarke, A. (2010). “In Memoriam: Susan Leigh Star (1954-2010).” Science, Technology, & Human Values, 35/5: 581-600.
  • Despret, V. (2004). “The Body We Care for: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis.” Body & Society, 10 (2-3), 111-134.
  • Ferguson, R. A. (2004). Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. Minneapolis: Minnesota.
  • Further and Higher Education Act (1992). Retrieved 5 Sept 2011.
  • Haraway, D. (2011). “SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far: The Pilgrim Award Speech,” (m4v) delivered by DVD in Lublin, Poland, July 7. Video retrieved 31 Aug 2011.
  • Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU.
  • Keeling, K. (2007). The Witch’s Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense. Durham: Duke.
  • King, K. (2011). “Growing Boundary Objects: Among Transcontextual Feminisms.” Presented to the Science & Justice Working Group, at the conference on “The State of Science & Justice: Conversations in Honor of Susan Leigh Star,” University of California, Santa Cruz, June 2-3. Retrieved from growbobjects.blogspot.com.
  • King, K. (Forthcoming). Networked Reenactments: Stories Transdisciplinary Knowledges Tell. Durham: Duke.
  • Latour, B. (2004). “How to Talk about the Body? The Normative Dimension of Science Studies.” Body and Society, 10(2/3), 205-229.
  • MacArthur Foundation. (2010) Katie Salen discusses Quest to Learn. YouTube Video retrieved 31 Aug 2011.
  • Marx, K. (1990 [1863]). Capital (Vol. 1). London: Penguin.
  • Parikka, J. (2011). “Archive for the ‘Barad’ Category.” Machinology: Machines, Noise, and Some Media Archaeology. Retrieved 7 Sept, 2011.
  • Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2004). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge: MIT.
  • Sandoval, C. (2000). Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis: Minnesota.
  • Sandoval, C. (2002). “Foreword: AfterBridge: Technologies of Crossing.” In G. E. Anzaldua & A. Keating (Eds.), this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation (pp. 21-26): Routledge.
  • Slaughter, S., & Leslie, L. L. (1997). Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.
  • Slaughter, S., & Rhoades, G. (2004). Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.
  • Star, S. L. (Ed.) (1995). Introduction to Ecologies of Knowledge: Work and Politics in Science and Technology (pp. 1-35). Albany: SUNY.
  • Star, L. (2010). “This is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept.” Science, Technology & Human Values 35/5: 601-617.
  • ThirdWorldNewsReel. (1995). A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde Trailer. YouTube video retrieved 4 Sept 2011.
  • Urton, G., & Brezine, C. (2009). “What is a Khipu.” Khipu Database Project. Retrieved 31 Aug, 2011.
  • Undisputed Truth version. “Smiling Faces Sometimes.” YouTube video retrieved 4 Sept 2011.
  • Zimmerman, E. (2010). Drift, Architectural Proposal, 2010. Created with Clara Klein & Nathalie Pozzi. Retrieved 31 Aug, 2011.

A transdisciplinizing posthumanities networks across many knowledge worlds. These do not all share the same practices of citation or the same sets of core and cutting-edge literatures. Indeed some ranges of these knowledge worlds are not located in academies. These citations are wormholes into worlds.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 All Pages

Next page

Footnotes
  1. Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (San Francisco: Chandler, 1972). [Return to text]
  2. Bateson 1972: 272. [Return to text]
  3. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003) 451. [Return to text]
  4. Bateson 1972; Gregory Bateson, Men are Grass: Metaphor and the World of Mental Process (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne Press, 1980). [Return to text]
  5. Donna Haraway, “SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far: The Pilgrim Award Speech,” delivered by DVD, Lublin, Poland, 7 July 2011. Video retrieved (m4v) 31 Aug 2011. [Return to text]
  6. Haraway 2011. [Return to text]
  7. Susan Leigh Star, “This is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept.” Science, Technology & Human Values 35.5 (2010): 614-15; 604-5. [Return to text]
  8. Star 2010: 610. [Return to text]
  9. Vinciane Despret, “The Body We Care for: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis,” Body & Society 10.2-3 (2004): 113; 125; 131. [Return to text]
  10. Bruno Latour, “How to talk about the body? The normative dimension of science studies,” Body & Society 10.2-3 (2004): 206. [Return to text]
  11. Latour 2004: 207. [Return to text]
  12. Kara Keeling, The Witch’s Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense (Durham: Duke UP, 2007): 6-7. “Smiling Faces Sometimes” is the companion song for Chapters 1 and 2. [Return to text]
  13. Keeling 2007: 11. [Return to text]
  14. Keeling 2007: 13; Roderick A. Ferguson, Aberrations in black: Toward a queer of color critique (Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2004: 11-18. [Return to text]
  15. Marx, Karl, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990 [1863]): 782, quoted in Ferguson 2004: 15; ellipsis altered. [Return to text]
  16. Keeling 2007: 14-20. [Return to text]
  17. Keeling 2007: 115. [Return to text]
  18. Karen Barad, “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter,” Material Feminisms, eds. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman (Bloomington: U of Indiana P, 2008 [2003]) 135. [Return to text]
  19. Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie, Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997); Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2004). [Return to text]
  20. Katie King, Networked Reenactments: Stories Transdisciplinary Knowledges Tell (Durham: Duke, forthcoming). [Return to text]
  21. Sara Ahmed, “Open Forum: Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism,'” European Journal of Women’s Studies 15.1 (2008): 36. [Return to text]
  22. Sara Ahmed, “Research Profile,” Goldsmiths, University of London, faculty webpage. Retrieved 7 Sept. 2011. [Return to text]
  23. Ahmed 2008: 26. [Return to text]
  24. Barad 2008 [2003]. [Return to text]
  25. Ahmed 2008: 35. [Return to text]
  26. Barad 2008 [2003]: 134. [Return to text]
  27. Barad 2008 [2003]: 134, emphasis in original. [Return to text]
  28. Susan Leigh Star, “Introduction,” Ecologies of Knowledge: Work and Politics in Science and Technology (Albany: State U of New York P, 1995) 22. [Return to text]
  29. Chela Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed (Minneapolis: Minnesota, 2000) 58; 139. [Return to text]
  30. Sandoval 2000: 36. [Return to text]
  31. Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York UP, 2006) 95-96. [Return to text]
  32. Chela Sandoval, “Foreword: AfterBridge: Technologies of Crossing,” This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, eds. G. E. Anzaldua and A. Keating (New York: Routledge, 2002) 20. [Return to text]
  33. Sandoval 2000: 110. [Return to text]
  34. Jenkins 2006: 129-30. [Return to text]
  35. Sandoval 2000: 59. [Return to text]